Wednesday 1 March 2017

Missed Classic: Snowball - Won! (With Final Rating)

Written by Ilmari

Kim Kimberley reporting 3: “I’ve found out why I have been awoken. The pilot who was supposed to take care of the last year of Snowball’s journey was killed by a mysterious person known just as Alpha. Now the ship is flying to a nearby sun, and it is up to me to turn its course. Fortunately, I have found space gear and I can move outside the freezer section...

Free floating

Outside the airlock was a docking bay, with a handgun that I quickly took in my possession. The massive doors of the docking bay were open, and a huge web connected the freezer unit to the inner surface of the enormous ball of ice. Traversing the web wasn’t particularly difficult, but I also found a much quicker way to get down.

When I had earlier tried to explore the outdoor locations - slowly dying of the lack of oxygen and in complete darkness - I had been told at one point that I was leaving the web and asked if I was sure. I tried to duplicate that experience by going to some edge of the web and moving to a direction without any web (Later I found out that I could have just jumped at any point off the web). Suddenly, I found myself floating.

I should be floating inside a giant ball of ice, so what
are these white dots supposed to be? Giant snowflakes?
I was then floating inside a huge ball of ice. At this point it was pretty clear what I should do - I was supposed to find some way to move myself in this near-zero gravity to the ground. “Every action needs an equal and opposite reaction”, I told myself and started shooting the gun.

This spot just cries for spectacular animation

The first thing I found on the inner surface of the hollow ice ball was a pylon leading up from a snowfield. Upon the pylon was a platform with a button, by which I could call a monorail shuttle. Taking the shuttle, I found myself on another platform, on top of another pylon, built on another snowfield. And upon that snowfield I found a habidome called “Snowball Hilton”.

The whole construct just becomes more and more amazing.
 They’ve even built a shuttle rail within this ball of ice


The first thing I found when entering the habidome was something called spidroid “hopper”. When I entered this contraption, I found myself back on the docking bay of freezer complex. If I ever needed to return there, I now had a quick way to hop.

A little bit further in the habidome I found a store room with a flask, with which I could replenish my air supply, and a spray can full of paint. At least in the game, taking a spray can in vacuum will make it explode, but putting it in a closed toolbox prevents this (can any physicists out there verify whether this would happen in the real world also?).

I am not sure inhaling minerals is that healthy

At one point of the habidome I found a security door, which opened with the code given to me by the woman I had revived. Inside I found a sunlit forest glade.

It’s true, just read it!

It’s no surprise that it was all just a hologram - I even found something called holowand, with which to stop the illusions. What is more difficult to understand is the holo environment itself, which seems just a medley of places stuck together. From the central forest glade you can get, for instance, to a beach near a desert island, recreation cabin, bathroom, comfortable cave and a cubicle in a library. I’m guessing this is just a parody of earlier text adventures, where game environment was often just a collection of such incongruent places. Then again, this seems a bit of a wishful thinking, since no matter what Red Dwarf says, they probably won’t play text adventures in the future, so why waste a holodeck for a recreating one?

Graphical version ruins the joke, because it already
shows what the rooms looks like without holograms

The holo-environment serves then no other purpose, but to hold a number of items, which all appear to be real. In addition to holowand, I managed to find dark glasses, silver tray with something called an electroflute, a debt card and an irritating pussy cat, which managed to stump my progress in the graphical version of the game.

You see, I had settled for a groove where I first played the game with the text-only version, solving puzzles as they came along. Then, long after I had finished some section of the game, I speedran through the same section in the graphical version. Now, you might remember from my previous post that I had some problems managing my inventory in the graphical version. Turns out the cat increased my problems tenfold. This supposed animal is actually some type of super-efficient automated vacuum cleaner. If the cat was not in my direct grasp, it would eat everything I dropped in the room it was. This happened even if the cat was in one of containers - something I noticed only when it was too late to do anything for it.

In the graphical version I was eventually carrying in my hands nothing but containers and all the other things were inside those containers - even the cat, who was sitting on a floating table. Before getting the cat, if I had to pick up something, I dropped one of my containers, then picked up the item I needed and put it in some container. With the cat on the table, whenever I tried to drop some container, the cat ate it and all the things contained in it. And yes, if I dropped the floating table, where the cat was lying, the cat ate the table and also itself (this would really demand some animation). Needless to say that my previous save was ages ago.

 I imagine the cat is related to this fellow

Since I was playing the graphical version only to get the additional art assets and they were frankly quite disappointing, I felt no obligation to backtrack to this point. Thus, I don’t have graphics for the very ending where I would have needed the objects I didn’t yet have. I am sure the pictures would have been as underwhelming as the ones you’ve already seen.

What’s that even trying to portray?


The monorail had even more stations and this is what I found at each of them:
  • A broken snowdozer, which required some welding. I did have a welding lance, but I still had to find some cylinders and a proper armour. I could enter the dozer and find a fire extinguisher in it, but I also required a key for using the thing,

    Now this is at least a decent picture
  • A cave, with a titanium shovel in front of it. Within the cave I found something called Jacob’s ladder, which I couldn’t use because of a guarding massive waldroid.
  • Smooth snowfield with nothing of interest
  • Robodome where I could find some cylinders
  • Another smooth snowfield
  • A warehouse with broken stratogliders and a ceramic armour

    Apparently a stratoglider looks like a freezer coffin

All the signs appeared to point to the snowdozer. With the ceramic armour and the cylinders I could finally fix the thing. I also found the keys simply by digging with my new shovel the snow around the snowdozer. I boarded the contraption, turned it on and waited it to move. Surprisingly, the thing wouldn’t move before I left.

When I exited the snowdozer, it started to move, pushing iceblocks in its way. I tried to find some way to prevent this from happening, but to no effect. Checking finally the clue sheet, I saw that I had just done what I should have - the snowdozer was meant to provide Snowball with some fuel.

My next bet was the droid. Perhaps I could somehow get rid of him? Indeed, that was the answer, but I really couldn’t have guessed the answer myself. Time for clue sheet then. Apparently I was meant to carry the paint spray can in my toolbox, then open the toolbox near the waldroid who would be blinded by the paint flying out from the can that exploded in the vacuum.

Now, this just seems like complete and utter hogwash. Really, I am supposed to beat a droid by covering its eye sockets with paint? Is that droid like a dalek in its saddest incarnation? And what are the odds that this supposedly exploding spray can would splurt its contents on the eyes of the droid and not, say, all over the toolbox where it was? Yeah, I am not buying this scenario.

The endgame

Going up!

With the guard droid taken care of, I could use the Jacob’s ladder. This was essentially a miles long ladder, within an opaque tube, taking me from the ball of ice to the engine pulling it.

Unislime sounds like something pouring out of unicorns

At the top of the tube started a wide red cylinder, and beside it, a ramp leading to the controls. It was all covered in slime, and as you would guess, trying to go up I would slip and fall to my death. This was a simple problem. After all, I had this cat who devoured any garbage left on the floor. Indeed, when I dropped it to the ground, it cleaned the whole ramp.

At the top of the ramp I found a pair of heavy blast doors, and behind them, a snowdozer jammed in it (if it is meant to be the same snowdozer, how did it get up here?). The snowdozer appeared to be nothing but decoration, and I could continue my way around it to a T-junction, where I was promptly blasted by laser fire.

Now, this was a puzzle I probably should have solved on my own, but I was getting a bit tired of the game at this point and I just grabbed for the next clue. Turns out, I had to use the reflective properties of the silver tray and wave it, thus turning the laser back on itself.

Getting finally to the control room, I was greeted by a sinister (female) figure, holding a petrol bomb - this must have been Alpha who had killed the pilot of Snowball. Alpha ordered me to keep back, or she would throw the bomb. What to do?

This was again a puzzle I couldn’t solve on my own, but this time I am quite sure that the game just gave me insufficient hints as to what would work. I had been carrying around something called an electroflute, and examining it had revealed only that it produced low and high notes. According to the clue sheet, I just had to blow the thing and the whole problem with the bomb would go away.

Let met get this straight - blowing a high note shatters the petrol bomb
and surrounds its holder with fire. Was that thing made of glass?

The hijacker staggered out of an unseen airlock and left me to handle the fire. Luckily I had a fire extinguisher with me. All I then had to do was to turn the autopilot on.

Yeah, I did it! Now onward to scoring

Time used: 7 hours
Total time: 16 hours


Puzzles and Solvability

For a while it seemed that Level 9 would finally have succeeded in improving the quality of their puzzles. Most of the problems were at least workable and some of them were even innovative, such as the use of a handgun in piloting yourself in space. Then in the final rooms of the game I faced one disappointment after another, worst offender being the puzzle based on the notion that a sudden effect of a vacuum on a spray can would make a robot blind. Because of these last impressions I am not going to improve the score from the previous Level 9 games.

Rating: 3

Interface and Inventory

I see no significant improvements in the parser, when compared with Dungeon Adventure. In the graphical version I faced some major problems with the inventory limit, so I will lower the score here radically.

Rating: 3 (2 for graphical version)

Story and Setting

The game has a rich and detailed background and the story is potentially exciting, although there is one question that is never really answered (who is the hijacker and what is her motivation). But the true gem of the game is the setting - a spaceship with quite original and still realistic structure.

Rating: 5

Sound and Graphics

The non-graphical version will obviously get no points. The graphical version is on par with the previous level 9 games (the Amiga version might have received a point more, but I am sticking to the Spectrum version for now).

Rating: 0 (2)

Environment and Atmosphere

A clear problem with Level 9 games has been an inconsistent tone. The spaceship setting itself is quite realistic, and the beginning stages, when you are trapped in a claustrophobia inducing corridors with mechanical killing machines, feel like they could come out of a horror movie. Then we face bureaucratic droids out of Hitchhikers Guide and a holographic parody of text adventures and the tone of the game just falls apart.

Rating: 3.

Dialogue and Acting

The quality of the prose varies from dull and efficient (especially in the repetetive freezer levels) to evocative phrases, present especially when you finally get to see the icy asteroid from above. There are some real characters - Alpha and the nameless frozen crewmember - but they have only few words to say. All in all, there’s still very little improvement over previous Level 9 games.

Rating 4.

3 + 3 + 5 + 0 + 3 +4 = 18 /0.6 = 30 (32 for graphical version). I also want to award the game for one bonus point, for the remarkable fact that all characters in the game are either females or non-gendered robots - something rarely seen in so early adventure games. Thus, the text version of the game is awarded 31 points, making it the first Level 9 game to get an official  score in 30s.


  1. I think the "petrol bomb" *is* in fact made of glass. What I'm picturing is a Molotov cocktail.

    I have another comment but it will have to wait until after Starcross is played, as it could be a spoiler for that game.

    1. Oh yes, a Molotov cocktail! That would make the puzzle much more sensible.

    2. Eeer... is in the description (PC version or extended text version): "A figure with a glass petrol bomb stands"

      The door closes behind you.
      You are in an open plan control room. As the ship flies itself there are few controls, just an assortment of computers and displays of no interest to anyone. They’re decades out of date - only kept in case the modern stuff fails. Exits lead west and out (through a door).
      A figure with a glass petrol bomb stands at the west of the room.

      The hijacker shouts, “Keep back or I throw the bomb!”

    3. That's interesting to know! I've tried to play the game in an era-authentic manner and not with the best possible version available (since most players wouldn't have had the required equipment for them). Obviously only small revisions would have been needed to make these cheap versions more enjoyable.

  2. Pressurized spraycans would tend to explode under low pressure. That's one of the reasons you aren't supposed to bring them on airplanes, for instance. The effect is probably even more severe in space! It does seem kinda B.S. that you could prevent the explosion by putting the spraycan inside a toolbox...but if that DID work, then I can sort of imagine being able to direct the spray by aiming the toolbox in the direction of an evil robot.

    1. Even if that would work, I still find it pretty unbelievable that the robot wouldn't have any mechanism for cleaning its optical sensors. Windscreen washer and wipers would do the trick.

  3. I feel like the robot / spraycan puzzle could have been a good puzzle if only there'd been an indicator, like the robot going, "Optical sensors detect an intruder" when you enter, and then occasionally saying, "Self-testing optical sensors: receptors remain free of obstruction."

    And then you'd go, okay, I need to paint over its eyes, but you'd be frustrated how to get the paintcan into the vacuum, so you'd need to solve that, et cetera.

    1. Examining the toolbox would probably also need to say, "A trusty vacuum-sealed toolbox for low atmosphere work" or something.

    2. If you close the toolbox and examine it, it says:
      "It’s a very well engineered toolbox. (Tight shut)."
      But that's on the PC version (or with extend text versions) :)

    3. In the accompanying booklet, the section on EEC tourism mentions tourists seeing sights via the waldroids' gleaming lenses, which was what helped me solve that puzzle.

    4. Ah, if I had noticed that section, I might have fared better with the puzzle. Thanks for pointing it out!